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ACL Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Buriram United [2nd Leg]

AFC Champions League 2018 Match Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Buriram United [2nd Leg]Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' trip to Thailand in the AFC Champions League did not go exactly according to plan, as they found themselves well beaten by a Buriram United side who more than rose to the occasion. Having rested first team players and dropping five points in the last two league games, the K League champions need to turn this around to prove their gamble has been worth it. Play anything like the first leg though and Buriram could find themselves in the quarter finals. Our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns spoke once again with ESPNFC's Paul Murphy about what to expect on Tuesday evening.


Matthew asks, Paul answers


Matthew Binns: We were certainly treated to quite the opening leg, with Buriram United coming out fully deserving winners, scoring some spectacular goals in the process. How has the reaction been in Thailand and are fans confident of making it to the quarter finals?

Paul Murphy: The performance generated much excitement in Thailand and Edgar’s stunning goal was widely shared on social media.

If Buriram hadn’t conceded the second goal, I think fans would have been confident of going through to the last eight. However, Jeonbuk’s second away goal makes them favourites to progress and I think fans acknowledge that it will take an excellent performance to reach the quarter finals.

There is certainly hope that they can do it but, realistically, it is a big ask to beat the Korean champions over two legs.

MB: Jeonbuk’s second away goal, scored in injury time, keeps the tie on somewhat of a knife edge. Do you envisage any changes to personnel or formation for Buriram because of this?

PM: I don’t expect Buriram to make significant changes in either personnel or formation but the wing-backs may have to temper their attacking instincts.

Buriram’s squad depth is limited so they don’t have too many alternative options. The 3-5-2 formation has served them well this season and I expect them to continue with it if everyone is fit.

MB: You rightly said Diogo would be the man for Jeonbuk to watch out for in the first leg, with the Thai League’s top scorer putting away an excellent free kick. Who do you think will be the most important players for the visitors on Tuesday evening though given they are defending a lead?

PM: I think Andres Tunez and Pansa Hemviboon will have to have big games in central defence if Buriram are to resist the Jeonbuk attack. Tunez is a slight injury doubt after picking up a knock on Saturday but he can be excellent in these types of backs-to-the-wall matches and he can inspire those around him.

Pansa has been a revelation since joining Buriram last year. Few people had heard of him beforehand but, at the age of 27, he became Thai League Player of the Year and a Thailand international. His partnership with Tunez was crucial to Buriram winning the league last year and they will need to be at their best on Tuesday.

MB: How will playing an evening game on a Saturday affect the team for Tuesday?

PM: It wasn’t ideal. The kickoff was actually brought forward a couple of hours to allow Buriram a little more time between the end of the game and getting to the airport for the overnight flight.

They played close to a full strength side and looked tired in the second half. Edgar’s two goals gave Buriram a 2-0 half-time lead, but Police Tero came back into the game and could easily have earned a point.

In some ways, it acted as good preparation as Buriram can expect to come under pressure in Korea and Tero certainly gave the defence a good workout in the second half.

MB: How do you see the second leg playing out and who progresses to the quarter finals?

PM: It would be great to see Buriram reach the quarter final but I feel that Jeonbuk’s added-time goal in Buriram turned the tie in their favour.

I would not underestimate Buriram as they are unbeaten on the road in this year’s tournament, including a draw at Guangzhou which featured a lot of desperate defending and a large slice of luck.

However, I think that Jeonbuk’s attacking quality may give them the edge that they need. After the criticism they have received for bringing just 14 players to Buriram and coming within minutes of a 3-1 defeat, Jeonbuk will have something to prove.

Paul's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-1 Buriram United (Jeonbuk win 5-4 on aggregate)

Paul asks, Matthew answers


Paul Murphy: How did the Korean media respond to the first-leg result and was it suggested that they had underestimated Buriram?

Matthew Binns: It was never really expressed that they underestimated Buriram United, but there was perhaps some concern in regards to bringing so few alternative options to fill the bench, when there was perhaps two or three other who could have made the trip. The problem with that is, some of the players needed time to recover or continue with rehabilitation and a six hour flight to Thailand to probably not feature could cost the club more over two legs.

The current injuries to Jeonbuk players are more known to the press as they include a number of national team defenders who neutrals are hoping will recover in time for the World Cup, so the reasoning was perhaps also more easily bought.

Jeonbuk had also sacrificed their local derby with Jeonnam Dragons the weekend before by fielding a weakened team to ensure their strongest eleven had plenty of time to acclimatise to Thailand. Of the the fourteen players who made the trip, thirteen had been in the country since the Friday prior preparing. It certainly did not come across as if the club were underestimating their opponents.

PM: Will Jeonbuk’s weekend defeat have an impact on morale or will they feel it was a price worth paying for resting certain players for the ACL match?

MB: A 3-0 defeat at home is always going to be demoralising, no matter which team is being fielded. Jeonbuk also planned to rest many players against Pohang Steelers to prioritise the Buriram game, but by full time, the likes of Son Jun-ho, Adriano and Kim Shin-wook were all called upon in addition to Lee Dong-gook and Lopes playing the full ninety.

Midfielders Lee Jae-sung and Lee Seung-gi, who boast a lot of the creative talent were missing on Saturday though, along with two of the strongest back four plus captain Shin Hyung-min. Their return will certainly lift the squad. Jeonbuk also have a knack of raising their performance for the big games, and this second leg will undoubtedly be the most important game of their campaign so far.

PM: Edgar and Diogo were a thorn in Jeonbuk’s side in the first leg. How do you think they will try and stifle their threat in the second leg?

MB: Unfortunately for Jeonbuk, there are not too many better options in personnel at the moment that they can bring in. They may deem Hong Jeong-ho fit enough to feature having played at the weekend after coming back from a hamstring injury. The Korean international was one of Jeonbuk's original centre back options coming into the season, but his long stint on the bench has meant his talents have not been showcased in Jeonju to their full extent. He has the ability and the experience of high pressure games though, which could improve invaluable to the hosts' backline.

Jeonbuk also played in an unfamiliar formation against Buriram, one that saw Lopes play as an attacking midfielder and perhaps stifle some of the creativity that Lee Jae-sung and Lee Seung-gi can provide in the centre. While it may not stifle the the threat of Edgar and Diogo, I would hope the manager would resort to his usual, more successful 4-1-4-1 formation as the new shape was trialled again at the weekend and the side shipped three more goals.

PM: Jeonbuk have received criticism for travelling to Buriram with just 14 players. Do you think this will give them extra motivation as they try and prove that it was a gamble worth taking?

MB: It could possibly offer them motivation as they can be quite a vengeful team at times, often eager to prove a point. I personally think the criticism levelled at them is unwarranted as teams have squads for a reason and it is up to the manager on how to best handle his players, their schedule and their fitness. Calls for punishment seem a tad hyperbolic, especially as it has also been pointed out that Buriram themselves have only filled their substitute bench once in the Champions League this season.

The AFC Champions League rules (3.3.4) do state that "each participating club shall undertake to field their strongest team throughout the competition" but I feel there a far worse offenders that should be much further ahead in the reprimand queue than a full strength Jeonbuk squad with a slightly smaller bench.

I do respect the opinions of those who made the point, and football would be lifeless without having these contrasting views to debate, but I disagree regarding this topic. I will imagine Jeonbuk will as well and hopefully use it to encourage their squad ahead of Tuesday. They will certainly not want to be defeated and have this issue as the reason for their exit, as it will be deemed a self-inflicted mistake regardless of Buriram's performance.

PM: Despite the one-goal deficit, do you think that Jeonbuk will be able to contain the Buriram threat and get the result they need to progress?

MB: That injury time away goal from Son Jun-ho may very well prove to be one of Jeonbuk's most crucial goals of the year. Because of it, Tuesday's task looks far more achievable. Buriram played with an intensity in that first leg that rightly drew plaudits and showed how clubs in this competition are wrong if they write Thai football off. That said, Jeonbuk's home ground is still a very difficult place to go, even if they did drop points there for the first time this year on the weekend. Hopefully it will be a tie that captures the imagination and draws out crowds, but Jeonbuk on home turf, and with a full bench to choose from, should have enough to scrape by.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Buriram United (Jeonbuk draw 4-4 on aggregate and progress via away goals)

We would once again like to extend our thanks to Paul Murphy for joining us on our site once more to help preview the AFC Champions League games. Paul is a football writer with a focus on Thai and Southeast Asian football, writing for the likes of ESPNFC, the AFC and others. You can keep up to date on Paul's thoughts on the game through his Twitter profile and over on ESPNFC's Thailand football blog.

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